Geese flocking over Forvie

With the breeding season closed for the most part there is a small lull, if you can call it that, to catch up on other activities on the reserve. This is a brief moment in the scope of the year with wintering birds making there way to the reserve and the wider country.

One species that is arriving at force at the moment is the pink-footed goose. They breed further North in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. After they moult their feathers, families of pinkies set off on their migration south for better feeding. For me it is without a doubt one of the highlights of the autumn wildlife calendar. Seeing skein after skein flying overhead, their calls a beautiful autumn soundtrack!

A skein of pinkies flying over the Forvie

It really started kicking of last week with flocks passing overhead all day. During October, Forvie NNR will start seeing its peaks numbers. They will start settling in and around the reserve in fields and lochs, finding resting sites at dusk and taking off for feeding grounds at dawn.

At its best, their numbers here can be North of 15,000 and it is definitely worth a visit to come down and see. A little closer to the best dates to see we will post another blog about the numbers around the reserve and how to best enjoy the spectacle.

But in the meantime, keep an ear open if you’re on the dunes for the familiar noise passing over head.

Our resident seals and the season changeover

Following on from a familiar theme in our blogs about the reserve, autumn is here. The end of the summer here at Forvie is signified with the departure of our fascinating terns back to West Africa and further south to the Antarctic.

With the terns gone, the barrier fence closing of the south end of the dunes to the Ythan Estuary mouth has been removed. This has opened up the reserve a little more for some exploring (and there was a lot to explore already) until next April with the return of the tern colony and the re-installation of the barrier fence.

A change in the season brings a change in the wildlife.

We are starting to see a lot of different wader species come in through the estuary. Both sides of the estuary are filling up with juvenile birds which unlike their parents, they are shockingly comfortable around people! Last week on the Newburgh side of the estuary during high tide a flock of juvenile knot landed extremely close and happily fed away while people watched nearby. It can be an amazing experience to see so make sure you keep your eyes peeled when you’re near the estuary 🙂

Sanderling feeding in the shallows

In the coming month we will also start seeing the spectacle of Pink Footed geese arriving on their autumn migration from their northern home. Although I will miss the terns I am very much looking forward to the familiar sight and sound of geese cackling overhead.

The Forvie Seal colony

Although there is plenty of change, one of the many species that are resident here at Forvie NNR all year round are our Grey seals and Common Seals. They truly are an amazing sight and long before I got the opportunity to work here at Forvie, I made regular trips to see the haul-out. The seals come to rest on the now open south end of the reserve.

The seals here are Forvie are protected as a designated seal haul-out. It is an offence to intentionally harass the seals. In other words, as with a lot of other protected species on the reserve, respect has to be given to the space and welfare of the animals. For this reason please do not go see the seals at Forvie through the Ternery or from walking along Forvie Beach. To help protect and reduce disturbance to the seals there is a blue roped barrier fence as a last defense on the southern tip of the reserve which we advice people to stay behind. There are also plenty of informative signs about the seals on the reserve so please give them a read as you pass! In some cases seals might chose to rest their blubbery bodies elsewhere (further up the beach for instance or on the Newburgh side of the estuary) so pay attention to their behaviour wherever you see them and do not approach them. If they are raising their heads from rest and looking in your directions they are getting anxious. This is a definitive signal to back away give them more space!

Forvie National Nature Reserve – Blue zone with red marker on bottom left corner showing the location of the blue roped barrier fence along a sand dune edge.

As I discovered for myself, you can get a truly magical experience of the seals from Newburgh beach and this is where we advise you to go see them from.

The best views of the seals from Newburgh Beach

High tide can be the best time to visit as the seals will haul-out high up on the beach to rest, with many swimming up and down the estuary, curiously peaking their heads above water to see what you’re all about as you pass. Occasionally with the safety of the water around them they come very close to the waters edge while checking you out! I would note to please be careful when skipping stones when you see seals around, you never know when one will be just under the waters murky surface. Although you may be very close in this instance keeping water between you and the seals allows them to feel safe and it is a great rule of thumb to go by.

Grey seals curiously watching people walk past

So get out and enjoy the reserve! There is a lot going and a lot passing through, just remember to do it responsibly.

The Little Terns of Forvie

With the arrival of our arctic, common, sandwich and little terns it’s all hands on deck here at Forvie. The breeding terns here are of international importance and this is no more true than for the Little Terns. They are currently identified as a conservation priority under both national and international directives.

The tern colony overall has had a successful year. Sandwich Terns have had an excellent year with approximately 700 fledged birds with our Commic terns (Common and Arctic Terns) having an average year with a peak fledgling number approx 370.

Our little terns have on the other hand had an unfortunate year. A species that is struggling historically in the UK, the colony continued on this path this year and had a sad downfall predominantly due to predation and unfortunate weather conditions

We monitor all the species and ensure all due protection is given from ground predators, using an electric fence, and from human disturbance, using another fence.

Little Terns settled in on there nests here at Forvie NNR
A quick meeting for a chat during the breeding season

Early on the little tern nesting success had promising signs with 28 pairs settling in. The nests were monitored closely throughout the season and it was a happy moment to see chicks on the way and good clutch sizes.

Some of our first little chicks

It was a short lived moment as with the heavy rain and stormy weather over the summer, Little Tern nests starting to empty without any chicks. In the midst of this eggs were lost to avian predation as well. An Oystercatcher with chicks was caught on camera stealing an egg from a Little Tern nest.

Adult Oystercatcher stealing Little tern egg to feed its own chicks

Of the original nests few survived the predicament they were in but was a ray of hope. There were 10 new nests identified on the outskirts of the original colony. Many of these were likely a second clutch attempt from the birds who earlier lost their eggs and chicks.

Although it was possible for success of a fledged Little Tern, the season was getting on. Their chances were getting lower and lower by the day as birds they rely on for protection clear out of the colony leaving the leaving the Little Terns to fend for themselves.

As with the first clutches there was some hatching success but again bad weather and further predation decimated the final nests in the colony.

A Little Tern chick being cared for by a parent
Moments later, snapped away by a Black Headed Gull

This Little Tern chick is easy pickings for an adult Black Headed Gull. Although it was sad to see, it is a normal part of colony life for the terns. While this chick was lost and might seem bad, the Black Headed Gulls presence in the colony early on would have offered much needed protection and deterrent to bigger avian predators.

In the end, after a long season the Little Terns had no success this year. They are naturally poor breeders with low productivity but with less than 2000 nesting birds in the UK all efforts will be given again next year so they have the best possible chance at putting young new birds back into the world.

The story of a migrant Redshank?

On the Ythan, various different species of use the estuary as a pit stop pre/post migration. It’s an important spot to rest, preen and feed for passage birds. An incredible number of Redshank pass through the Ythan in the Autumn and at the moment their numbers are increasing rapidly!

After having seen a juvenile Spotted Redshank earlier that day on reserve and reports that the juvenile bird was on the estuary we were rifling through the flocks of Redshank for any differently marked birds we came across this guy below with a yellow flag with the number 112.

Yellow flagged Redshank 112

Needless to say, I got excited what story this little bird had to tell. We sent off the sighting information to ringing groups and heard back shortly after from our local ringing expert. This Redshank was ringed as a juvenile 5 years previous on the Ythan in late August. We have breeding Redshank in the local area so it was quite possible it was a juvenile bird of a resident pair. Or did it originate from further afield?

After overwintering on the Ythan during its first year there were routine sightings of the bird in 2014 and 2015 from mid July to mid/late August but no sighting here during the breeding season until May 2016. There was a confirmed sighting of the bird photographed at Brekkusker Iceland! The remote North East reaches of the country.

It was then shortly after sighted again on the Ythan mid July 2016 so most likely the Ythan is and will continue to be a favoured stop off point for this little bird. It really is fascinating what we can learn from ringing so if you are out and about doing a spot of bird watching, it pays to keep a close eye for any tagged birds.

Moth spectacles at Forvie

There is a species of moth named spectacle which occasionally graces our moth traps (and on this occasion did), hence the title. Needless to say I am not very good at word play.

Although they can be easy to overlook, moths and butterflies play an important role as indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems among other aspects. Here at Forvie NNR we have been getting the moth trap out to catalogue the species diversity that the reserve attracts and I have got to say, it’s a great way to start a day.

Garden tiger moth looking fresh

Unlike a lot of brown, faded moths that can induce a headache trying to identify them, garden tiger moths at this time of year are in huge numbers here and are looking extremely fresh with distinct markings, i.e. easy to identify!

There are over 2500 species of moth which have been identified in the UK. The variations are amazing to see from the metallic pattern on the wing of a burnished brass to the striking lesser swallow prominent. They play a pivotal role in the ecosystem as pollinators and a food source for insectivorous animals like passerines and bats.

Having wildflowers and common plants in your garden can help attract moths to your garden which in turn attracts other species as well. For instance, snout moth caterpillars feed of common nettles! Needless to say they are quite widespread as a result.

Aforementioned faded and unidentifiable moth – anyone want to take a guess?

The weather slowly strips away the outer scales that make up the colours and patterns on a moths wings as with the moth above that I was hesitant to try identify. The fact that this faded moth is alive and well is a testament to the good weather recently. The sunshine will quickly fade away the pattern on its wings.

The variety in moths is stunning, it really is amazing the beauty that quietly comes out at night. All you need is a light source to attract them! Hopefully will be organising a moth morning event at Forvie NNR to sort through and identify some reserve species so keep an eye out on our facebook page.

Goliath’s of the sea – whale and dolphin watch event time!

The waters around Scotland are some of the best in Europe for marine mammal sightings. These marine mammals include whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans. As is we aren’t spoiled already with the geomorphology of Scotland’s dramatic coastline, we are very lucky to get a good variety of marine mammals off our coasts as well.

Forvie NNR dramatic coastline

In relation to our marine relatives, the staff here at Forvie National Nature reserve will be hosting a National Seawatch event next weekend on the 28th July from 14:00 to 17:00 from the Cransdale Vantage Point in Collieston. More information about the event is available on our Facebook page “Forvie National Nature Reserve”.

More than 20 species of cetacean have been seen in Scottish waters but some species are more common close to our shores here on the North East, many of which have been spotted by the staff here over the years.

So, what are we likely (and hopeful) to see on our watch of the coast?

Harbour porpoises – The first most likely candidate to pass through our sights. They are a regular sight along the coast with the peak sighting numbers from July to September. They usually are seen travelling solo or in two’s (unlike some dolphin species you might see in large pods).

Bottlenose dolphins – common in the Moray Firth further North of here as there is a resident population there but they regularly commute up and down the coast to Aberdeen and past our sister reserve St Cyrus NNR for feeding. As such bottlenoses have been regularly recorded in the area as a result – potential for them to pass as we set up our watch on the coast! As with the harbour porpoises they are present all year round but sightings are at their highest from July to October.

Minke whales – The most common baleen whale in Scottish waters and although it is not a regular sight, this time of year between June and August is the best time of the year to get out and potentially be one of the lucky ones to see them off our shores. This seasonal pattern in minke whale sightings is likely the migration of animals into British waters to feed during the summer months before moving further south to breed during the winter.

There are other frequent and infrequent swimmers along our coast so pop along to the event if you can on the 28th July to learn and hopefully see more. We will have binoculars and long range scopes at the ready so no worries if you don’t have your own. Not only is it pretty enjoyable spotting marine mammals but these surveys contributes towards the Seawatch citizen science program so it is an excellent way to help contribute data towards the conservation and research of these incredible animals.